July 14, 2017
By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
LOUDON, N.H. – Inspection issues continued for Kyle Larson and his Chip Ganassi Racing team, whose pole-winning time was disallowed in Friday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series knockout qualifying session because his rear decklid fin was outside specifications.
The infraction handed the top starting spot to series leader Martin Truex Jr.
Larson dominated Friday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series knockout qualifying session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, posting the fastest lap in each of the three sessions. Because of the penalty, Larson will start last for the second straight race — the No. 42 failed to clear pre-qualifying inspection last week at Kentucky.
After qualifying second for the sixth time this year, Truex won his first Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his first at New Hampshire and the 13th of his career, touring the one-mile track in 28.621 seconds (133.077 mph) to warn the right to lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s Overton’s 301 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
“Not the way we wanted to get our first pole of the year, but looking forward to starting up front and getting a good pit stall,” Truex said after learning Larson’s time had been disallowed.
For Larson, an excellent effort came to an abrupt demise.
With a remarkably consistent show of excellence, Larson had topped the speed chart in all three rounds, covering the one-mile distance in 28.568 seconds (133.324 mph).
Docked 35 points earlier in the week for a rear brake cooling system that didn’t meet specifications after his second-place finish at Kentucky Speedway, Larson was .053 seconds faster Truex (133.077 mph) in the money round. Ultimately, that didn’t matter.
Coincidentally, Larson’s penalty from Kentucky handed the series lead back to Truex, by 34 points.
Jimmie Johnson qualified second, followed by Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Kasey Kahne. Driving a backup car after crashing off Turn 4 in opening practice, Denny Hamlin advanced to the final round and qualified eighth.
Johnson was delighted with his first top-five starting spot of the season.
“It was a great qualifying effort for us,” said the seven-time series champion. “We’re trying hard to find the right combination to produce a fast lap time. Clearly, we’ve had good race pace. But we’ve tried some different things this weekend, especially halfway through that practice session, and really put some comfort in the car and started to do some good lap times.
“So I’m optimistic and excited, and we’ve got a direction for this weekend. From this, I think we can build on this mind-set and I think make our cars pretty much better everywhere else.”
Aric Almirola will start 21st in his first race since suffering a compression fracture of his T5 vertebra on May 13 at Kansas Speedway.
Notes: Seven-time New Hampshire pole winner Ryan Newman failed to advance to the second round and will start 25th on Sunday. … With a last-ditch effort at the end of the second round, Kahne knocked Kevin Harvick out of the top 12. Harvick was .018 seconds slower than Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch, who finished the second round in 12th place and will start ninth on Sunday. … Matt DiBenedetto cracked the top 20 in qualifying for the first time this season and will start 16th.